New England Patriots: Five Ways They Can Gear Up For Super Bowl XLV Run
The 2010 NFL playoffs are nearly upon us, and the fate of many teams hangs in the balance. The New England Patriots are among those teams, even though they've already locked up a playoff spot.
With 12 wins in the bank, it may seem like it's time for the Patriots to take the foot off the gas, but there are still a few things they can do to get ready for the playoffs.
They are still playing for the ever-important home field advantage, a gift that has earned them a berth to the Super Bowl every time they've earned it.
But there are a few more things they can do.
Win One More Game...
Some teams are in a "win and you're in" scenario. As a result of their great season, the Patriots have it easy over the next two weeks. With games against the Bills and the Dolphins, the Patriots need to win only one of those to lock up home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
There's no place like home for the holidays, and there's no place like home for the Patriots in the postseason, where they're currently 8-1. Likewise, Tom Brady holds the incredible record of 27 straight regular season wins at Gillette Stadium.
Oh, and did I mention they're 10-0 in the snow under Bill Belichick?
The Patriots aren't a team anyone wants to face in their house, especially in the playoffs.
...And Then Keep Competing
If there's one detrimental mistake the Patriots could make, it would be to take their foot off the gas. It can't hurt to let the wounded get healthy (more on that later) but the Patriots can't afford to take their foot off the gas and lose the momentum they've built over their six-game winning streak.
Another two games of action could also be good for the defense, who needs to find their identity on third down and find ways to make stops other than turnovers (more on that later, too).
However, don't do it at the expense of staying healthy. Although all signs point to Devin McCourty's rib injury being nothing serious, it can't hurt to rest him up, but it may hurt to keep him out there.
And we all saw what happens when you go full-tilt all the way to the playoffs last year, when Wes Welker went down with an ACL injury in the final game of the regular season. We wouldn't want another one of those, but you can't rest all your starters in the final game of the season and expect to perform well on three weeks of rest.
Get Healthy On The Defensive Line
Myron Pryor. Ron Brace. Mike Wright. And those are just the defensive linemen that need to get healthy before the playoffs.
Getting any information out of Belichick on the availability of these players for the playoffs would be like getting someone off of Riker's Island.
Fortunately, we can be sure that Brandon Spikes will return for the playoffs, as his inactivity is due to a suspension. It's clear, though, that the Patriots are a much better defense with those defensive linemen in the line-up.
Improve on Third Downs
Mike Dussault of PatsPropaganda.com breaks it down for us:
"Take away the turnovers and this defense is as bad as the statistics say it is. Depending on turnovers is a recipe for disaster, that is why the Pats must put together a three game stretch in the playoffs where they only give up 40% of their third downs...their third down numbers break down like this:
Elite (sub-35%): 2 games (vs. Ravens, vs. Jets)
Solid (36% - 45%): 3 games (Vikings, @ Steelers, @ Bears)
Poor (over 45%): 9 (everyone else)
It’s no accident that whenever the Pats are better than 45% on third down they win."
Living on interceptions has worked for teams in the past—look no further than the 2009 New Orleans Saints, which led the league in interceptions and won the Super Bowl.
But the way this defense is playing, all it will take is 60 minutes of mistake-free football from the opposing offense to beat the Patriots. It will be necessary for them to improve on third down if they want to see any success in the postseason.
I've written at times this season about how this team approaches every game like it's the Super Bowl. And there's no need to change that now that everyone is talking about them like they're already in the Super Bowl.
The best thing this team can do for itself between now and the playoffs is to simply ignore the press clippings, and to adhere to the preachings of Bill Belichick: take it one game at a time.